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24th Jul 2021

Judges to cross-examine Barroso in tobacco lobby case

  • Barroso is set to appear at the EU court of justice in Luxembourg (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso is to appear at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg in a tobacco lobbying scandal which refuses to go away.

He is to answer judges’ questions as a witness in the tobacco case on Monday (7 July), before lawyers from both sides give their arguments on Tuesday.

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The case was brought by former EU health commissioner John Dalli, who left office in disgrace in 2012 amid allegations of solicited bribes.

Barroso’s head of cabinet, Johannes Laitenberger, will be at his side in Luxembourg, as well as the head of the commission’s legal services, Luis Romero Requena. Dalli’s former head of cabinet, Joanna Darmanin, and former spokesperson, Frederic Vincent, will also attend.

Dalli wants the Court to annul Barroso’s request for his resignation on grounds he had secret contacts with Swedish Match, a mouth tobacco company.

He also wants the commission to pay a symbolic €1 in damages for the “non financial” harm he has suffered, and compensation for his loss of earnings as a commissioner.

But the Barroso side says there was no request for Dalli’s resignation and that he stepped down of his own accord.

“It’s all basically down to the circumstances surrounding Mr Dalli’s departure,” a contact at the Luxembourg-based court told this website.

More broadly, Dalli maintains his innocence in the campaign by industry to water down the EU's Tobacco Products Directive.

The scandal led to accusations of unlawful meetings between Barroso’s inner circle and tobacco lobbyists, as well as mismanagement of inquiries by the head of the EU’s anti-fraud office, Olaf.

Dalli is not the only person who refuses to let the matter rest.

The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, late last month also opened a probe into allegations the commission failed to disclose meetings with tobacco lobbyists in contravention of United Nations rules.

As a signatory of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the EU is required to reveal all meetings with the tobacco industry.

The convention’s preamble says that all parties “need to be alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts and the need to be informed of activities of the tobacco industry that have a negative impact on tobacco control efforts”.

O’Reilly’s probe stems from a complaint in May by the pro-transparency group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), which says top commission officials from the secretariat general and members of Barroso's cabinet held 14 undisclosed meetings.

The contested meetings include representatives from tobacco giant Philip Morris International, Swedish Match, and an unregistered lobbyist working for the European Smokeless Tobacco Council.

The commission says it complies with the UN rules and is transparent.

It says it disclosed all its meetings that took place in 2011 and 2012 between the tobacco industry and its directorate for health and consumer affairs (DG Sanco). It also says it provided information to the European Parliament on contacts with the tobacco industry.

"It is therefore wrong to speak about undisclosed meetings", says commission spokesperson, Pia Hansen.

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